George Eliot, 1859
This was the third book in my recent “Let’s read books published in or around 1860” reading project. I got about 50 pages in and stalled on the interminable descriptive passages, but my retro 1966 paperback is so cute that I wanted to like it, so I kept trying.
It took me about 100 pages to get used to the way everything is described in crazy minute detail for paragraphs at a time, but eventually I learned to just relax and appreciate it when Eliot (who was obviously not interested in keeping the plot chugging along) spends 3 pages talking about something like how sometimes the people you love are just regular people. Which I thought was funny considering that each one of the characters in the book is either uneducated but morally perfect or charmingly flawed in some really likable way.
Things I learned from Adam Bede:
1. Garnet earrings = lost virginity. Watch out for them.
2. Methodists are weird, unless they are very pretty women, in which case they are ok.
3. Young women who have sex die. Maybe not for years, but before the end of the story.
4. If you are wearing rural 18th century costume, no one can tell you are pregnant.
5. Vanity and weakness lead to horrible irreversible evil.
That last one is the most important. The story follows a progression of events in which decent, likable people are tempted by vanity and the pleasures of the flesh onto a path from which there is no escape but death and ruin. Having premarital sex in a Victorian novel is like having sex with the captain on Star Trek: death sentence. I like Adam Bede because the seducer isn’t villainous or apathetic, and he doesn’t die of narrative justice. He carelessly ruins someone’s life, and the knowledge of it destroys his own life, which he then lives out in misery and repentance. Um, and there are sexy main characters who end up happy. Yay!